4 Hurdles to Clear Before Obama Hits Copenhagen

Negotiations are getting mired in China-U.S. friction, walkouts, and skirmishes over who's shouldering the cost

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World leaders will descend on brisk Copenhagen at the end of the week to take winning photos and inscribe their names on some kind of agreement. (Though as everyone has known for a long time the accord is expected to be weak, non-binding, and provisional until a binding agreement is hammered out next year.) The only problem is that the spadework of crafting a workable agreement isn't done.

Meanwhile, tempers are flaring. On Monday, African delegates walked out of meetings in protest, delaying proceedings by hours. Already, officials are scrambling to lower expectations. The boosted hopes heading into the talks have given way in some quarters to panic, though none of this has to do with the quickly-forgotten Climategate imbroglio. Even as some doubt Obama's ability to galvanize proceedings, what hurdles do they have to clear before he arrives?

  • African Delegations' Frostiness Toward Obama, writes Glenn Thrush at Politico. "He's a rock star in Africa - but President Obama is getting the cold shoulder from African climate negotiators who think he's fighting the wrong fight on emissions and aid to poor nations. 'That's part of the [Americans'] game plan, to have Obama come... and distract everyone," said a delegate who represents a large African country. 'When he comes here with his charisma, there'll be a lot of photo sessions and a lot of razzmatazz; he might even get some of our leaders to commit to some statements that will rubbish our negotiators.'"
  • China-U.S. Friction, report John M. Broder and James Kanter for the New York Times. China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, wants more from the developed world. The U.S. wants observers to verify China's cuts. "China, which last month for the first time publicly announced a target for reducing the rate of growth of its greenhouse gas emissions, is refusing to accept any kind of international monitoring of its emissions levels, according to negotiators and observers here. The United States is insisting that without stringent verification of China's actions, it cannot support any deal." Hillary Clinton writes an op-ed that lays out the U.S. position, emphasizing "transparency," which would presumably include monitoring of China's cuts: "Transparency, in particular, is what will ensure that this agreement becomes operational, not just aspirational."
  • 'Tough Decisions on Money,' write Jeffrey Ball, Alessandro Torello and Stephen Power for the Wall Street Journal. The cause of the walkouts and China's fights with the U.S. boil down to a simple matter: money. Who has to spend the most? "At the heart of the disputes in Copenhagen are sharp disagreements over money."
  • Disappointment Over Obama's Negligence, argues David Corn for Mother Jones. While negotiators look for guidance before his arrival, the president has missed numerous opportunities to set the tone and agenda in Copenhagen. "Right now, the massive production under way at the overcrowded Bella Center in Copenhagen could be titled 'Waiting for Obama.'...In recent days, the president has passed up opportunities to show that delivering the goods in Copenhagen is a top priority for him...If Obama has any intention of mounting a Copenhagen surprise, so far there's no tell."
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